Stephen McMickens: The teenager who tried to save officers Shelton and Clark

(Kevin Marlow | WBTV)
(Kevin Marlow | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark were shot on March 31, 2007, the only person who ran towards them to help was 18-year-old Stephen McMickens. That moment has stuck with him for a decade.

"I remember everything," he says, ten years later. "Step by step, dot by dot. It feels like yesterday."

Stephen lived with his mom - as he still does - in an apartment at Timber Ridge in east Charlotte. Late night on March 31st, 2007, neighbors started yelling to come to the edge of the complex.

"When we got down there and started looking around at people, I'm like, 'What are you all looking at?'" Stephen said. "Then I saw the officers. At first I thought it was a joke because we were around April Fools' Day."

Stephen has been recounting this story for years. His answer about WHY he ran towards them -- instead of away like so many others -- always remains the same.

"I just felt drawn to them," he said.

In this day and age where so many people see race and division and sparring sides, Stephen never saw anything but two men in need. He says officer Shelton crawled towards officer Clark. Stephen says he knelt down beside them both and grabbed Shelton's hand.

"Shelton and I looked in each other's eyes," Stephen said. "And after we stared at each other, that's when he let go."

Stephen knew the men. They were his neighborhood officers often patrolling this high-crime area. In fact, Stephen says, officer Shelton had just given him a pep talk two days prior.

"You're going to make a difference and you're going to make it out of here," Stephen said. "That's what Shelton told me."

Stephen's mom Stella - who ran to get towels that night – says she's not surprised her son acted selflessly. She says she raised him to only ever see people, as people.

"What color you are has nothing to do with it," she said. "And Stephen really loved being police. He played police all the time as a young boy. To see them slipping away is what touched his heart."

She paused. "I'm proud of him. Because helping them really brought life back to him. He now reaches out to talk with others and try to help them through their troubled times."

The community rallied around Stephen after the murders, setting up a scholarship to attend Central Piedmont Community College. WBTV did stories when he got inducted into the honor society. Stephen says he stopped school three years ago, after transportation from east Charlotte to CPCC became difficult and he was diagnosed with PTSD. He's still eaten up over the memory of that night."

"It hurts because I couldn't save them," he says. "I tried to save them."

Stephen often gets emotional. He says he was in a bad place, but connecting with the officers in their last moments helped save him.

"I may not be perfect," Stephen said. "But I did what Shelton said and I stayed on the right track. I'm trying to make a difference in their memory."

Stephen said if he can graduate – he says he has one class left at CPCC – he'd like to become a funeral home director.

"You can talk with people at funerals, especially youth," he said. "Gang deaths and friend deaths, that's when situations affect people. That's when you can reach them."

All of Stella McMicken's family still lives at Timber Ridge, but Stephen says the neighborhood has returned to a level of high-crime like it was ten years ago and they'd like to leave. Their entire apartment is packed in boxes, they just don't know where to go, or how exactly to get there.

"But we want to leave here," Stephen said. "It feels like everyone else is gone from here except us."

Ten years later, what is Stephen's strongest memory?

"That Officers Clark and Shelton made a difference. They're helping people still. They're helping me. As my mom says, they're the kind of people who are everyday heroes."?

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